Written By Adam Furgang
After many weeks of sitting and staring at the FAA Drone Zone website I was just informed that they denied my waiver request to fly at night on Cape Cod in glass G airspace over the dunes at low tide in July. For those not familiar with the location, the low tide on Cape Cod goes out as far as 1/2 a mile twice a day. I figured this would be a great location to fly at night and capture a few night shots of Cape Cod.
Despite my FAA certification and my in-depth application request with latitude and longitude coordinates, a proposed well lit launch area with safety cones, lights on my SUAS, and many other provisions to mitigate risk I was denied. I proposed I'd wear a hard hat. I proposed I'd launch and land well away from the shore line (several hundred feet) and not fly over or any structures, vehicles, or people. I'd only fly up and down. I'd keep my flights short. I'd have a fire extinguisher at hand. Phone numbers ready. Cell phone charged. I'd have a first aid kit on site. A radio to scan the airports that are very far away. METARS. NOTAMs. I'd give myself 20 minutes for my eyes to adjust to the night. And on and on and on...
OK. So I move forward.
Meanwhile on Instagram, I see many people flying all over the place. They fly drones over state parks. They fly at night, over people, over moving cars and highways, etc. Are they FAA certified? Are they hobbyists? Do they have operational waivers to fly in the class C airspace near where I live and at night? Do they have permits and the required liability insurance to fly in the Catskills? Who knows? I know I've seen local night images on Instagram of Albany over streets with moving vehicles below. I'm pretty sure even CNN does not have this kind of permission yet. The FAA does not allow for flying over moving vehicles. Check out this podcast at DroneU. And also check out this FAA information about flying over moving vehicles:
No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is: (a) Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or (b) Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.
Stationary vehicle is the key phrase here.
I do know that here in New York State I have been quoted $1,800 for a low end liability insurance policy just to fly my drones for commercial use. I'm still waiting for my Airspace Waiver to fly from 0/400AGL in the 5 mile Class C vicinity of the KALB airport near me. I'm sure this will get denied too. Why? I'm not sure. No aircraft ever flies at 400AGL or below unless it's right near the airport. Since I am a FAA certified drone pilot I now have the good sense not to fly right near the airport and its flight path. But me flying 2 miles away at 200 feet AGL to take a photo of a house or property for a real estate professional? If a plane was flying that low it'd be on the news that evening!
The KALB Class C airspace I live in is HUGE and encompasses most of Albany, NY and much of the outlying area. Without a Airspace Waiver to fly around here I am grounded. I can't conduct any SUAS business in this airspace. As a hobbyist last year I had it easier since I called the Airport and was told I'm good as long as I don't go above the tree-line. That is not an option. All I can do is wait for LAANC to arrive here in mid August. I'll just sit here and wait.
So what's the deal? Are FAA certified pilots like me who want to play by the rules just sidelined from flying and shooting in all the intersting areas while the noncompliant just flout the rules and throw caution to the wind and fly wherever the hell they want? Sure they are the ones ignoring the rules and taking the risk. But without an actual incident, are there any consequences for them? Can they sell their photos? Do they have carte blanche? Does anyone care? Is anyone at the FAA even paying attention, except of course to deny my official Nighttime Operational Waiver Request over a smelly low tide sand bar on Cape Cod?